Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
Recently, while traveling from Washington D.C. to sunny Florida, Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) sent me to secondary inspection at the airport. Apparently, my bag had an object that they could not identify.
They asked me to identify the object on the screen and I was baffled. It was deep in my 50 gallon backpack, and I could not remember what I had stuffed at the bottom.
The TSA officer asked me whether I was carrying sea salts. I didn’t know at the time what that meant, so I blurted out that I had been to the beach lately.
She looked at me like I had grown two heads, and asked me whether it could be bath salts. Again, I was confused and told her I had no idea what she meant. And even if I was carrying sea salts or bath salts, what was the problem with carrying salt?
The TSA officer started to unpack my bag, examining each item meticulously. Finally, she got to the bottom of bag and found the offending object:
My partner is a bananagrams lover, and I was carrying a brand new bananagrams pack that I had recently bought for her. The TSA officer did not appear amused, and asked me to break the seal. I told her it was a gift for my wife, which was probably not a good idea to blurt out either, but she insisted that I open the bag. So I opened it, and revealed a bunch of new tiles.
At this point, over 20 minutes had elapsed, and we were about to miss our flight. Taking pity on me, she finally packed my bag and let me scamper off to find my flight.
My partner, who is a white woman, had the job of carrying the bananagrams on the way back from Florida. She somehow got through the checkpoint without any trouble.
Pro tip: Give all your oddly shaped items to your white friends to carry at airport checkpoints. Alternatively, stop looking like a queer South Asian boi.
I am never quite sure how to begin talking about anti-black racism among diasporic South Asians and Pacific Islander communities. After all, indigenous Fijians are essentially black. Many Indians brought to Fiji to work as indentured servants were also much darker-skinned, when compared to their Indian-born counterparts. While Indo-Fijians are often prejudiced against native Fijians, in part, due to years of white settler colonialism and supremacy, firangis have a harder time telling us apart from one another.
So not to take away from the fact that many Pacific Islanders and South Asians are often perceived as black in the U.S., anti-blackness in South Asian and Pacific Islander communities is real. This is a great resource authored by friends at Queer SAAN to start the conversation in our communities about anti-blackness: It Starts at Home: Confronting Anti-Blackness in South Asian Communities. While the criminal injustice system is not about to root out the daily violence that we are all subjected to, the revolution does start at home.
ChangeLab: Why Ferguson Matters to Asian Americans
India Abroad: So That All Our Grandparents Walk Freely
In their newly released book, The Triple Package, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld propose that some groups are naturally better than the others due to certain cultural traits they possess. I was on HuffPost Live to discuss the book, and to debunk its central notions, which you can watch here:
If the embed link is not working, you can also watch it here.
Some quick points I’d like to reiterate that are also mentioned in the video:
1. Amazed about the publicity and attention that this book is receiving because it is saying nothing new
Whiteness and white supremacy has been predicated on classifying and ranking racial and cultural groups over history, and demarcating some of these groups as less than the other. And discriminating against the people who are supposedly lower on the totem pole. It’s just the same old racism, repackaged as the triple threat.
2. The Triple Package is ahistorical.
Speaking of history, I think the arguments that Chua and Rubenfeld make are very ahistorical. If hard work is the way to success in this country, then descendants of slaves, and migrant workers should be the richest and most successful people. Why are they locked out of prosperity? Rather, Rubenfield and Chua gloss over the fact that the wealth of some groups has been based on the exploitation, looting, plundering over other racial and ethnic groups – the indigenous people were mostly wiped out, black people were enslaving, and now incarcerating at highest numbers. What’s most problematic is that it provides a justification for racial and cultural discrimination – some groups of people are just not as good as others.
3. Perpetuates the model minority myth, which then justifies anti-black racism
Indian population in the U.S. tends to be higher-income because they mostly migrated as “high-skill” workers, and already had education and class privilege that allowed them to migrate and achieve success in U.S. However, there are over 300 million Indians living in poverty in India. And then there are many Indians who are actually not doing so well in the U.S. How does Chua account for that? She just appears to be perpetuating the model minority myth – which is predicated on anti-black racism. These cultural groups are “making it” in America so why can’t black people do so? That’s the implication of The Triple Package.
4. Dangerously suggests that we have moved beyond racism, which is simply not true
I think success is mostly systemic. It is predicated by affinity and closeness to whiteness, environmental factors such as the neighborhood someone grows up in, and class—the wealth of parents – and social connections that someone has as a result of their class and race.
For more critiques of the book, check out this post by friend, Scot Nakagawa.
Dedh Ishqiya, the sequel to Ishqiya, is brilliant for its subtlety and in the way that viewers have been left to wonder in amazement about the relationship between Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi, the two leading ladies in the movie.
Here is the ultimate movie spoiler: Yes, indeed. Madhuri and Huma are supposed to be together in the movie, as in lesbians or at least, bisexual.
Lesbian or gay themed movies are not mainstream in Indian or even American cinema, but Dedh Ishqiya goes where few movies have gone before. This subtle way of exposing the audience to lesbianism is perfect because it does not play on stereotypes to reduce women to caricatures (Girlfriend), does not treat queerness like a bad joke (Dostana), while engaging a mainstream audience lost to brilliant but art-house gay Bollywood movies such as Fire or Onir‘s I Am.
What makes the movie a success? Well, read on.
1. Recruit an icon of Indian cinema for the lead role.
Madhuri Dixit is simply stunning in her lead role as Begum Para. There is no doubt that the movie was made with her in mind, as she shines in scene after scene with eloquence and mastery, delivering a magnum opus performance. In an industry where female stars have an expiry date of 30, her resilience and star power in her late forties makes her a true legend of Indian cinema.
2. Master the Craft of Subtlety
When Fire, a movie that explored lesbian relationships, hit the cinemas, Indian audiences protested by burning effigies, shutting down cinemas. Faced with that atrocity and the recent Section 377 decision that criminalizes sodomy in India, subversion is a great tool to drive home a point. The relationship is portrayed through playful talk and kept in the shadows from the audience. By not placing an emphasis on the actual sexual act of the two women, the film forces the viewers to humanize the lead characters.
When Naseerudin Shah’s character states “lihaaf mang le” towards the end of the movie, this is a reference to Lihaaf, a short story written by Ismat Chughtai, an independence era writer, on sexual repression, women’s liberation and homosexuality. In fact, with a similar plot line of a closeted Nawab and a repressed Begum, Dedh Ishqiya can be read as a movie adaptation of Lihaaf. The rest of the story is merely a camouflage for this revelation, cleverly made for the audience to consume homosexuality without knowing it.
And it worked. No one is burning down cinemas and taking out effigies of the actors. Rather, the audience is reveling in this masterpiece.
Why are you still reading? You should go watch Dedh Ishqiya now.
My favorite music from 2013, arranged in no particular order.
Once in a while, megastar Shahrukh Khan comes around with yet another mindless movie that reminds you of his Ram Jaane days (Yes, we haven’t forgotten). In Chennai Express, our Rahul is over 40 and relies mostly on repeating ad-nauseam scenes from Bollywood movies we still find endearing, killing all our nostalgia for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in the process. Add Rohit Shetty type Golmaal action to it, and you appease an audience that cannot sit through more arms and legs swaying in the wind romantic sequences. Still, it’s on Netflix and a good introduction to what real masala Bollywood movies are all about. I must admit that it was entertaining once I shut off my brain.
Tum Tak (Raanjhana)
Dhanush (of Why this Kolaveri Di? fame) is so endearing in his first debut Bollywood movie that his uncomfortable, aggressive, one-sided love for Sonam Kapoor’s character has been welcomed as a sweet, love story. Shobha De says the movie glorifies stalking and I tend to agree, but it is worth a watch, if only for the performances and A.R. Rahman’s music. It’s definitely one of the better soundtracks of the year.
3G is supposed to be a horror movie but the soundtrack is actually soothing, melodious and nothing resembling horror. Under-rated composer Mithoon is back with a full album after a long while, and he delivers some memorable tracks. It’s definitely one of the better soundtracks of the year. I have a playlist of only Mithoon on Spotify if anyone wants to listen to more of his sufi-influenced music.
Be Intehaan (Race 2)
Pakistani singer, Atif Aslam, gets better with each Bollywood song. However, Race 2, a sequel to Race, is barely tolerable.
Jeene Laga Hoon (Ramaiya Vastavaiya)
Jeene Laga Hoon is another romantic Atif Aslam and Shreya Ghoshal song, which ruled the charts this year, despite a lackluster movie.
Tum Hi Ho (Aashiqui 2)
I remember Aashiqui in 1990. I recall how Rahul Roy, a talentless hack with a cool haircut, became the new face of Bollywood over-night, if only for a short while. The original Aashiqui boasted of terrible acting, a weak plot, and the same old contrived formula of yesteryear’s romance: two people loved each other but their parents didn’t agree to it so they eloped. The movie was a hit only due to the splendid soundtrack. So when I heard there was an Aashiqui 2, I groaned inwardly about why terrible movies needed sequels but then I heard the crooning voice of Arjit Singh in “Tum Hi Ho” and Shreya Ghoshal in “Sunn Raha Hai” and I gave in. Aashiqui 2 was also a hit, mostly due to the music. Next time, they should just release the Aashiqui 3 soundtrack alone, and save us the torture of sitting through the movies.
Meethi Boliyaan (Kai Po Che)
Up and coming Amit Trivedi is one of the most under-rated Indian musicians. He composed three songs for Kai Po Che, and all of them are brilliant, with Meethi Boliyaan being a personal favorite. The movie, Kai Po Che, is available for streaming on Netflix, and is worth a watch.
Balam Pichkari and Kabira (Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani)
Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani is one of my favorite movies. The movie boasts of a superb soundtrack by Pritam so it was hard to pick just one song. I picked Balam Pichkari because our generation desperately needed a holi song. How long are we supposed to listen to Rang Barse?
And with its haunting lyrics, Kabira is easily the best song of the year. I do wonder where Pritam lifted these tracks from but maybe they are original compositions for once.
Sawaar Loon (Lootera)
Is that a song from the 1950s? Well, the movie is set in the 1950s and the music harkens back to the days of Rahul Dev Burman, evoking nostalgia for many of our parents. I watched Lootera during one of my trips to New York, and loved the subtlety and simplicity of it.
Ambarsariya is a Punjabi song from the movie Fukrey, a low-budget caper with heart and substance. Through Fukrey, Amit Trivedi also introduced Bollywood to Dubstep, which may or may not be a good thing. The movie was also a good time-pass, and there are rumors about a sequel.
Nagada Sang Dhol (Ram-Leela)
This year Deepika Padukone delivered four hit movies, three of them earning over 100 crores. While Padukone isn’t of the same acting caliber as Tabu, Rani Mukerji or Madhuri Dixit, she gets better with every movie, and is quite possibly the most gorgeous of the lot. In Nagada Sang Dhol from the movie Ram-Leela, Padukone delivers a top-notch performance as both actor and dancer extradordinaire. She actually developed blisters and wounds on her feet while training for this song, and danced with her feet taped, probably in excruciating pain. Expect her to take home several awards at every award function that matters.
Dhoom Machale (Dhoom 3)
I almost didn’t put this on the list because I can’t stand Katrina Kaif for more than a few seconds a year. She’s awful as an actor, has ruined many good movies for me (Jab Tak Hai Jaan, anyone?), and the only thing she is good at is expressionless dancing. Besides, she’s half-white and represents everything that is wrong with Bollywood’s Eurocentric beauty standards. However, Dhoom 3 is slashing all records at the box office mostly due to Aamir Khan, so you may as well get acquainted with a real Bollywood action flick. Dhoom and Dhoom 2 are both on Netflix.
That’s all for now. I have a more extensive playlist for 2013 on Spotify. My partner says listening to Bollywood is like listening to American Top 40, and while that is true, I am not sure how else to access better Indian music.
Got any favorites to share?